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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

Civil liberties groups cannot sue the federal government to stop the president's warrantless domestic spying program. That's the ruling this morning from a divided panel of the federal appeals court in Cincinnati.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: The ACLU brought this lawsuit on behalf of reporters, academics and others who believe their phone calls and e-mails may have been intercepted in the Bush administration's domestic spying program. They argued that those wiretaps inhibit speech and unconstitutionally violate Americans' privacy.

The problem with that argument, according to today's ruling, is the people who filed the lawsuit can't prove they've been spied on. If they haven't been spied on, they haven't been harmed by the program. And if they haven't personally suffered any injury from the program, then they don't have standing to file a lawsuit. For that reason the court ordered that the case be thrown out.

The records of who has been spied on are top secret, so there's effectively no way for anyone to prove they were personally subjected to the program.

Judge Ronald Lee Gilman said in dissent that he would have ruled against the Bush administration. He said the groups were harmed by the wiretaps, whether or not they were personally targeted. Further, he believes the program violates the laws governing domestic spying. The judge wrote: The president does not have the inherent authority of act in disregard of those statutes.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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